My wife, Ashley, and I love encouraging married couples from all over the world through our ministry at MarriageToday and the XO Marriage Conferences. We love hearing stories of good news when a couple gets engaged or overcomes a hardship in their marriage, but we also hear many stories of heartbreak from couples facing tragedy like discovering evidence of an affair.
Just this morning, I opened my inbox and another familiar message came through. It was from a husband who just found out his wife has been having an affair with his best friend. I can’t imagine how much this double-dose of betrayal must sting. Despite his obvious pain and heartbreak, he was asking about what he could do to try and save the marriage. I told him that I’d be praying for a miracle and then I shared the seven steps to recovery I believe every couple must follow to heal from the aftermath of infidelity.
When your spouse has had an emotional or physical affair, the first things you must do to start the healing process are:
Choose to forgive. This does NOT mean you trust your spouse at this point. Forgiveness and trust are two different things. Forgiveness is simply saying, “Because I love you, I’m choosing to pursue restoration instead of revenge. I’m choosing to pursue healing instead of hatred.”
Insist on your spouse breaking off ALL contact with the other person involved. If your spouse won’t break off all contact, there’s no opportunity for trust or healing to happen.
Create a policy of total transparency in the marriage. This should include accountability software (like X3Watch or Covenant Eyes) on all phones and devices to block porn and to monitor contacts. Your marriage must have a “Secret-Free Guarantee” from both spouses for the marriage to heal. All marriages need complete transparency regardless of whether or not there’s been an affair.
Begin counseling right away with a professional Christian marriage counselor to help you navigate the path to rebuilding trust and intimacy. Another aspect of counseling could be to go to a retreat specifically for married couples in crisis. There are many offered throughout the country.
Prioritize time together to rekindle the intimacy in your relationship. You need lots of time just to talk. You need to pray together. You need to laugh and cry together.
Spend plenty of time alone with your spouse, BUT don’t try to do life alone. You need a community of support around you, which should include a healthy church home. You need other trusted people praying for you, providing accountability and support.
Decide in advance you’re not going to give up when it gets hard. There are going to be moments of great pain and emotion even after you thought you’d “gotten over it.” There will be lasting wounds from this kind of betrayal, but you must decide in advance not to keep holding this over your spouse’s head. You must also decide in advance not to quit. If you’re both committed to healing, you will get through this and God’s grace will prove to be sufficient for you both. The peace that Christ brings is more powerful than our worst sins.
As an important addendum here, I need to remind you that if you’re doing everything in your power to forgive your spouse and save your marriage, but your spouse chooses to walk away, it’s not your fault. Do everything you can to promote healing and hope, and if he/she chooses to leave, let them go in peace. They may choose to end the marriage, but that’s is NOT the end of your story. God has a beautiful plan for you and He will carry you through this.
For those couples where both spouses are willing to move forward together, don’t quit! The road will be long and it will be difficult, but it will be worth the effort! The Lord will give you grace and strength for the journey and this deep scar can become a powerful part of your testimony someday. We are praying for you and cheering you on.
This article originally appeared here.